Jul 262014
William F. Deeck

OSMINGTON MILLS – At One Fell Swoop. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1963. Roy, US, hardcover, 1965.

   Aware that the case won’t do his career any good, Superintendent William Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch nonetheless undertakes the investigation of the missing head of the C.I.D. in Bramwith. The policeman, a lay preacher in the Johnsonite sect, had disappeared shortly before he was to address a centenary celebration of the sect, if the Johnsonites can be said to celebrate.

   Since the policeman’s wife had tried to divorce him for cruelty and now has a lover, she and the lover are the first suspects, if there has indeed been foul play. Information also turns up that the C.I.D. man had with him on his travels two warrants; perhaps the individuals sought made sure that the warrants would not be served.

   Possible, too, is the involvement of the police superintendent where the C.I.D. man was going to serve the warrants. But what role does the leek slasher play?

   A good investigation by Baker and his assistant, Inspector Hughes, and an engrossing portrait of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Forgive the far-fetched coincidences and enjoy this one.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Insp. (Supt.) William Baker series —

Unlucky Break. Bles, 1955.
The Case of the Flying Fifteen. , Bles, 1956.
No Match for the Law. Bles, 1957.
Misguided Missile. Bles 1958.
Stairway to Murder. Bles, 1959.
Trial by Ordeal. Bles, 1961.
Headlines Make Murder. Bles, 1962.
At One Fell Swoop. Bles, 1963.
Traitor Betrayed. Bles, 1964.
Enemies of the Bride. Bles, 1966.

   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks (1922-2002), whose other series, eight in all, recorded the cases of Chief Insp. Rupert “Rip” Irving and P.C. (Sgt.) Patrick C. Shirley.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Jul 232014
by Marv Lachman

FRANK PARRISH – Death in the Rain. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1984. Perennial Library, paperback, 1986. First published in the UK as Face at the Window (Constable, hardcover, 1984).

   Fans of Dick Francis will enjoy that other master of the narrative, Frank Parrish, whose fifth book about Dan Mallett, Death in the Rain, is in paperback from Perennial Library. We identify with Francis’s heroes and feel every bit of pain inflicted by sadistic villains. With Parrish’s “professional” poacher, we observe nature as if we are also lying on the English ground, feeling the cold and dampness. He is marvelously knowledgeable about the Wessex countryside made famous by Thomas Hardy.

   Death in the Rain plays down the major weakness in prior Mallett books, his long-standing attempt to get money for the hip operation his mother won’t consider free, under British socialized medicine. Yet Mrs. Mallett plays a greater role in this book, and she is a delightful supporting character.

   She and Natasha Chapman, a very believable young actress, help compensate for a plot with some structural weaknesses. There are too many coincidences, too many blackmailers, and too many people simultaneously in (or watching) the murder flat.

   Those are the only flaws I can discuss without giving away too much plot, but suffice it to say that, warts and all, this is as much fun to read as Parrish’s prior novels about one of the more unusual series characters of the 1980s. The first four Mallett books are also available from Perennial and equally recommended.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Notes: Frank Parrish was the pen name of Roger Longrigg. (1929-2000). Under his own name he has two marginal entries in Hubin. Other pseudonyms are: Laura Black (four novels), Ivor Drummond (nine adventures of Jennifer Norrington, Alessandro di Ganzarello & Coleridge Tucker III) and Domini Taylor (nine novels).

       The Dan Mallett series –

Fire in the Barley. Constable, 1977.

Sting of the Honeybee. Constable, 1978.
Snare in the Dark. Constable, 1982.
Bait on the Hook. Constable, 1983.
Face at the Window. Constable, 1984. US: Death in the Rain.
Fly in the Cobweb. Constable, 1986.
Caught in the Birdlime. Constable, 1987. US: Caught in the Net.

Voices from the Dark. Constable, 1993. No US edition.

 Posted by at 12:20 am
Jul 212014
William F. Deeck

FRANCIS ALLAN – First Come, First Kill. Reynal & Hitchcock, hardcover, 1945 Bantam #34, 1946.

   In the midst of her honeymoon, Linda Gordon (née Payne) has to return to New York City because her father had, most unlike him — he’d never done it before, you see — committed suicide. Or so it would seem.

   Luckily, Mr. Payne had previously called in John Storm, private detective, to investigate an attempt at extortion by a singularly strange woman. Storm concludes Payne was murdered, a crime committed by a cool and devious person for gain, and Linda might be next.

   Besides Linda, four men inherit under Payne’s will. Since only one of them is both cool and devious, he must be the murderer. He should have been easy to spot also because he had had to carry a body that had been buried for two weeks without benefit of mortician. Bound to leave its mark, one would think, but this does not occur to Storm.

   Allan’s characters do a lot of gasping, occasionally half gasping. Curiously, the asthmatic doesn’t; instead, he sneezes. They also do a significant amount of communicating with their eyes, which are hot, or sick and vacant, or ex-pressing animal fury, or half angry, though which half is not made clear.

   A strange choice for Bantam to reprint early in its history.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Notes: Francis K. Allan (1916-1997) was a prolific writer for the detective pulps. Assuming the link will stay fixed, you can find a list of some his stories here. Allan was also the author two other hardcover novels: The Invisible Bridge (Reynal, 1947) and Death in Gentle Grove (Mason/Charter, 1976).

 Posted by at 2:21 am
Jul 202014
Allen J. Hubin

GEOFFREY MARSH – The Fangs of the Hooded Demon. Tor, hardcover, 1988; reprint paperback, 1989.

   I’ve not before encountered Geoffrey Marsh and his Lincoln Blackthorne series, of which the present The Fangs of the Hooded Demon is the fourth. Blackthorne is a tailor in New Jersey, of all things, to whom incredible experiences accrue.

   If Demon is any guide, these tales are part mystery and crime, part unresolved fantasy and mysticism, with Blackthorne functioning more or less in the role of private investigator. Or maybe a land-bound Travis McGee.

   Here he’s hired, or maybe forced, to track down the titular fangs, which are bejeweled false teeth with reputed powers of rejuvenation if the right ritual is used at the right time. Various aged and villainous Hollywood rejects want the fangs desperately, and the peril-around-every-corner chase leads to New York, then to Oklahoma, and finally to the oozing swamps of Georgia.

   Frantic and imaginative, and I suspect quite enjoyable if your tastes run to this sort of thing.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Note: It is now known that Geoffrey Marsh was one of several pen names used by Charles L. Grant (1942 – 2006), a noted horror and fantasy writer whose books sometimes verged into crime fiction territory, as did the Blackthorne novels.

      The Lincoln Blackthorne series (as by Geoffrey Marsh) –

1. The King of Satan’s Eyes (1984)
2. The Tail of the Arabian, Knight (1986)
3. The Patch of the Odin Soldier (1987)
4. The Fangs of the Hooded Demon (1988)

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Jul 102014
William F. Deeck

PETER PIPER [THEO LANG] – The Corpse That Came Back. Random House, US, hardcover, 1954. First published in the UK: Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1952, as Death in the Canongate.

   The fairly portly chess-playing Detective-Inspector O. (as in Oliver, though his name isn’t Oliver) Gray of Scotland Yard is in Edinburgh to attend as many concerts as possible at the International Festival. When the local police ask him to take a hand in the investigation of the appearance of the corpse of Bailie Andrew Maclachlan, who had planned his own funeral to the minutest detail and had been cremated, or so everyone thought, Gray disrupts, but only a little, his plans.

   He manages to get in his sightseeing, giving readers a splendid rendering of the tourist’s Edinburgh, and the musical offerings of the Festival while discovering why the corpse has turned up most unexpectedly.

   A police procedural both interesting and amusing, one of seemingly only two featuring Gray. This is a pity, for Gray is a delightful character.

   According to Random House, Lang wrote under a pseudonym while he was in the British Army during World War II because he didn’t want to go through the red tape of getting permission to write. After writing several books on walking trips, Lang wrote a series of books about the antiquities of Scotland.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Notes:   Bill was in error, or rather two, when he wrote up his notes on this book. There were three Inspector Gray books, the other two being Murder After the Blitz (Hurst, 1943) and Death Came in Straw (Hurst, 1945), neither of which had US editions and hence are as scarce as hen’s teeth today. And Piper’s real name was Theo Langbehn, although he did write one mystery as Theo Lang.

   As Peter Piper, he wrote two other works of crime fiction, both in Hubin, with no series characters noted. What has always been a problem for me, is trying to keep from being confused between the author Peter Piper, and the character Katherine “Peter” Piper, who appeared in seven works of detection fiction by Amelia Reynolds Long, but I think I finally have them straight now.

 Posted by at 3:16 pm
Jul 082014

WILL ERMINE – My Gun Is My Law. Pocket 911; paperback reprint; 1st printing, November 1952. Hardcover editions: William Morrow, October 1942; Grosset & Dunlap, 1946; Jefferson House “Triple-A Western Classic,” March 1950. Also published in Double-Action Western, May 1943 (perhaps abridged). Introduction to Jefferson House and Pocket editions by Erle Stanley Gardner.

   I didn’t know this before doing some research on the subject, but as it so happens, Will Ermine is one of several pen names that Harry Sinclair Drago (1888-1979) used to write westerns, including his own.

   Another of Drago’s assumed aliases is Bliss Lomax, which I knew, and a quick dive into the Internet produced some other information. Not all of his books were westerns, for example. One of his books, Playthings of Desire (Macaulay, 1924), as by J. Wesley Putnam, is about the illicit affairs of a Broadway actress, and was the basis for a silent film of the same name. Starring were Estelle Taylor, Mahlon Hamilton, Dagmar Godowsky and Mary Thurman. When the movie was produced again in 1933, the featured players were Linda Watkins, James Kirkwood, Reed Howes and Josephine Dunn.

   None of these people were previously known to me. Perhaps they were household names at the time. Fame is sometimes a fleeting thing.

   Getting back to western fiction, though, here’s an interesting look into the effort that Drago did to make his western fiction as authentic as possible. The paragraph below is taken from Richard Patterson’s introduction to a book that Drago did on the history of the west, Outlaws on Horseback: The History of the Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century, reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1998:

    “Although Harry Sinclair Drago did most of his writing within a cab ride of New York’s Hudson River, he probably knew parts of the American West better than some who spent their lives there. A committed researcher, Drago once memorized the names of over a thousand counties in the western states and territories. To avoid mistakes, he kept pages of an 1890 atlas pinned to the wall of his office.”

   The original edition of this work was published by Bramall House in 1964. For another view of Drago’s attitude toward writing, I can’t tell you where the following quote first appeared, one I found on the Internet, but here it is anyway:

    When asked how he wrote over 100 books: “Four pages a day, that’s how you write 100 books. That’s how you write books.”

   My Gun Is My Law is a title that really doesn’t have anything much to do with the book of the same name. As Erle Stanley Gardner points out in his introduction, the central theme of this western novel is the family feud. Two of the men who originally settled the hundred-mile length of Spirit Valley, Jube (Stonewall) Gordon and Rusty Cameron soon began fighting each other, their hatred beginning a quarrel between the two that lasted for forty years, claiming the lives of most of both men’s sons, not to mention scores of men who worked for either side.

   For most of that time the feud was fought according to rules. From page 3:

   For one, you did not shoot an enemy in the back, or fire at him unless he was properly warned. Also, it was possible to meet him while he was on lawful business and unless he gave fresh offence you did not make war on him. It was a quixotic, even an absurd code; but it was a code, and in this Spirit Valley country there had always been black disgrace for the Cameron partisan or Gordon adherent who had dared violate it.

   As you see, this is very much in the vein of the traditional western, which also means, of course, there is also a romance involved, no matter how serious and how deadly the feud between the two families may be. Here’s a rather long quote from page 10, and you’re probably way ahead of me on this. At a local dance, with both sides in attendance, and on their “best” behavior toward each other:

    By now, every eye in the room was trained on Cape [Cameron] as he stood before Necia [Gordon], tall and straight, his blue eyes alive and reckless in his young face. With a grace few suspected he possessed, he bowed to her.

    “Miss Gordon,” he said so softly that many could not hear, “might I have the honor of this dance with you?”

    Men and women held their breath, stunned by his request and certain that Necia would say no and put him in his place. They were in no doubt as to what would follow. Guns would talk here tonight. They knew they should be thinking of their own safety, getting out of the way. For the moment, however, they were helpless to do anything about it. A spell had been put on them, and they could only stare at Cape and Necia.

    They saw him regard him with a curious interest, the color coming and going in her cheeks. She seemed calm enough, with Cape’s preposterous advance ringing in her ears and the eyes of everyone in the room on her. They knew she was alive to the significance of this moment and its inevitable consequences, and they told themselves that if she was slow to answer it was only because she wanted what she said to be adequate and final.

    But, to their surprise, something flowed into her dark eyes that was warm and friendly. A smile parted her lips.

    “I’d be most pleased to dance with you, Mr. Cameron,” she said simply and with a trace of her father’s familiar drawl.

   With well over 150 pages of small print to go in the paperback edition, this is of course only the first step toward a truce, and not all of the characters survive to the end. As a matter of fact, the local doctor, a young fellow somewhat acquainted with the new science of ballistics, does a fine job of detective work, finding a killer in a shooting where no one was even suspected. Microscopes do come in handy! – even in a land where guns make up 90% of the law.

   For a fellow that started early in the pulps (circa 1922), Drago/Ermine has a flair for the right word in the right place, albeit with a certain stiffness in the telling every so often. From this (admittedly) small sample of size one, I’d definitely say he’s worth seeking out and hunting down to read more of his work.

— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
    2005 (slightly shortened and revised).

 Posted by at 9:46 pm
Jul 072014
by Marv Lachman

   Five recent reprints from Perennial Library [as of 1989] testify to the remarkable quantity and quality we have come to expect from Michael Gilbert. His second mystery, He Didn’t Mind Danger (1947), has been reprinted in this country in paper for the first time in more than twenty years; Lancer had published it under its British title, They Never Looked Inside.

   We follow Major Angus McMann, who is shaken out of his boredom in post-war London when he gets involved with a particularly well organized gang of jewel thieves and finds himself not only helping Scotland Yard but even having his military commission reactivated. Some of Gilbert’s later work might be smoother but he has never been livelier, nor more readable.

   The Danger Within (1952) has a most unusual setting, an Italian prisoner-of-war camp for British soldiers, but it is one Gilbert knows full well because he was a captive during World War II, until he escaped. There is both humor and suspense as the British plan an escape, only to find there is a traitor in their midst whose identity must be detected.

   Death Has Deep Roots (1951) also has its roots in World War II. A British attorney (Gilbert’s profession) is asked to defend a young French woman accused of murdering her lover, a war hero. The legal pyrotechnics are well handled, but the book succeeds most notably with its compassionate picture of the characters.

   World War II’s black market continued during England’s post-war austerity far longer than in the United States, and in Fear to Tread (1953) a British schoolmaster innocently becomes involved with a criminal gang. Such is Gilbert’s skill that we identify compulsively with this amateur sleuth as he battles them.

   Blood and Judgment (1951) is an early case for one of Gilbert’s few professional detectives, Inspector (then Sergeant) Petrella of Q Division. Gilbert’s first series detective, Inspector Hazelrigg from Scotland Yard, was very intelligent but a bit bland. Petrella is young, enthusiastic, error-prone, but ultimately a hero who shows that, on the few occasions he essayed them, Gilbert was one of the best writers of police procedurals.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

 Posted by at 9:11 pm
Jun 242014

by Josef Hoffmann

   The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu claimed that a literary field began to form in 19th century society that followed specific rules. These rules had to be obeyed by a writer if he wanted his literary products to be successful. Indeed, he almost had to internalise them.

   For example, an author of fiction must not directly express his political or philosophical views, as an author of factual books might, but must instead translate them into the narrative of a novel, integrated into the plot or the dialogues of the protagonists, in order to comply with the rules of novel-writing. Yet the rules of the literary field are not rigid, but are adaptable to some degree, thus allowing scope for experimentation.

   It is my theory that, at the time when Agatha Christie began to write her detective novels, a relatively independent literary field began to develop – the genre of the detective story – with its own specific rules. This was expressed in the discourse of the time on the rules of fair play between author and reader and the foundation of the Detection Club, which obliged its members to comply with certain rules.

   Agatha Christie was so successful because she mastered the rules of the genre (which were not as narrowly defined as those of the Detection Club), rules that became second nature to her.

   This becomes clear, for example, in her Miss Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Almost at the beginning of the detective novel, Christie writes that the life of the parish seems to have been created for the amusement of the vicar’s young wife, and that her regular afternoon teas served the purpose of exchanging gossip. Towards the end of the novel, the vicar gives a sermon which, rather than being shaped by the Christian spirit, foams with dramatic rhetoric in order to impress the congregation.

   Despite this interweaving of criticism of the church, it would never have occurred to Christie to call her novel something like “The Church Is Dead.” Instead she chose a suitable title for a detective novel, The Murder at the Vicarage, which itself is actually outrageous, as the vicarage, the centre of the Christian parish, should be a place of devotion and the love of one’s fellow man, and not the scene of a murder.

   But this is accepted by the reader, whereas a title explicitly critical of the church would have met with rejection. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938), there is a murder during this festive season, despite the fact that, in the opinion of one protagonist, Christmas should be a celebration of peace and reconciliation.

   But Hercule Poirot calls Christmas a time of hypocrisy. Yet the title of the detective novel is not “A Celebration of Hypocrisy,” which would certainly have damaged the sales of the book.

   In his history of crime literature, Julian Symons finds fault with the fact that the General Strike of 1926 never took place in British detective stories of the Golden Age. But that is not quite right. Christie included the element of the General Strike in the narrative structure of the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, from 1926. By making the narrator and assistant to the detective a murderer, she suspended the rules of fair play, quite in the manner of a general strike.

   The scope of Agatha Christie’s knowledge was broader than some literary critics would like to believe.

           Further Reading:

Pierre Bourdieu: The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Polity Press 1996

John Curran: Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, Harper 2011

Curtis Evans: Was Corinne’s Murder Clued?: The Detection Club and Fair Play, 1930-1953, CADS Supplement Number 14

Howard Haycraft (ed.): The Art of the Mystery Story, Carroll & Graf 1992 (Part 2: The Rules of the Game)

Julian Symons: Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: a History, Papermac 1992.

                — Translated by Carolyn Kelly

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Jun 192014
William F. Deeck

C. A. ALINGTON – Gold and Gaiters. Faber and Faber, UK, hardcover, 1950. No US edition.

   In Chapter Five, on page 65, the Reverend Cyril Alington says readers may complain that a novel without “a hero is one thing, but a novel without action quite another.” Action remains lacking for a goodly number of pages — until Chapter Nine, Page 97, in fact — but the appreciative reader won’t care.

   This novel should be read, as are the “crime” novels of P. G. Wodehouse, for the author’s style and humor. By the time the gold Roman coins are stolen from the Cathedral Library, which is in the charge of Archdeacon Castleton, that good man, the reader should be enjoying himself or herself far too much to worry about what is happening or not happening.

   Delightful froth.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

Bio-Bibliographic Note: According to Wikipedia, “Cyril Argentine Alington (22 October 1872 – 16 May 1955) was an English educationalist, scholar, cleric, and prolific author. He was the headmaster of both Shrewsbury School and Eton College. He also served as chaplain to King George V and as Dean of Durham.”

   The Wiki page also contains an extensive bibliography. Of those a dozen are detective fiction, and of course they can also be found in Hubin, including one as by S. C. Westerham. If you’re interested, two copies of Gold and Gaiters are available on the Internet at the current time, both in the $20-30 range.

 Posted by at 2:41 am
Jun 122014
William F. Deeck

GUY COMPTON – Disguise for a Dead Gentleman. John Long, UK, hardcover, 1964. No US edition.

   Not a happy one is the life of the confidence man, particularly one as inept as Graham Boyce. Hating his brother and embittered at not having attended what would appear to be a second-class public school, Boyce is planning to impersonate his brother at the school’s centenary celebration and sell some worthless stock to one of the old boys.

   Unfortunately, Boyce did not know that his accomplice, whom he asked to take up with any graduate of the school in order to be invited to the ceremonies, would choose Ben Anderson, the best friend of Boyce’s brother at the school, mystery writer, and detective manqué . After Anderson arrives for the celebration, two deaths occur at the school.

   As I read this book I had the feeling that Compton was a good writer who could — and really should — have done better for his characters and his plot. Though the novel does leave some dissatisfaction, I would be willing to try another of Compton’s works.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

      The Ben Anderson series –

Too Many Murderers. Long, 1962.
Medium for Murder. Long, 1963.
Dead on Cue. Long, 1964.
Disguise for a Dead Gentleman. Long, 1964.
High Tide for Hanging.Long, 1965.

Bibliographic Note: While I was getting this review ready to post, I discovered that Guy Compton has to be a lot better known to science fiction fans than he is to mystery fans. Most of his SF novels were as by D. G. Compton, many of them published in the US as paperbacks.

 Posted by at 5:40 pm